Healthy competition for final spot in rotation

Morgan, Oberholtzer and Velasquez are in the running

March 13th, 2016

TAMPA, Fla. -- Opening Day is three weeks away. With that in mind, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and his coaches met informally Sunday morning to kick around some early thoughts on how the regular-season roster might be constructed.

One of those decisions will be to pick a fifth starter. Coincidentally, two of the candidates -- left-handers Adam Morgan and Brett Oberholtzer -- were lined up to pitch against the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday afternoon.

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Morgan was impressive, shutting out the Yankees on one hit and one walk while striking out two over four innings in the Phillies' 3-0 win. So was Oberholtzer, who posted three shutout innings, allowing four hits. Vince Velasquez, who is also in the mix, gave up two runs in four innings of his start against the Blue Jays on Saturday.

"Let me put it this way: It's a problem, but it's the kind of problem we were hoping to have," said Mackanin. "So it's a great problem and we're just going to continue to see them pitch and hope that the best man wins."

The final decision could also be impacted by which pitchers have options (Morgan, Velasquez), projected upside and which could be used out of the bullpen.

"Some guys are capable of [relieving]. Some guys are not capable of doing that," Mackanin said. "I know, for example, Oberholtzer has pitched as a starter and out of the bullpen. And I know Velasquez did it for Houston last year.

"But, you know, he's the guy we were hoping to build with as a starter. So I don't know. Anything's an option. But we like what we see. Morgan may or may not be able to [relieve], but he's pitched so well down here [as a starter]."

Morgan, 26, needed just 39 pitches on Sunday.

"It was fun. It's still a simple game plan. Trying to keep the ball down and work efficiently. And it worked out. I'm not trying to complicate anything. Really just trying to keep the ball down and get them out in less than three pitches. It's always encouraging when you throw good. But you can't get too high, you can't get too low. So right now, I'm just staying the course."

Said the 26-year-old Oberholtzer: "It's the big leagues, so there's always competition. I honestly don't look at it any other way than to just go out there and do the things I can control -- work hard and get better."

There was other rotation-related news Sunday. The two veteran starters who were added this offseason to add experience, Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton, each pitched four impressive innings in Minor League camp games at the Carpenter Complex after being sidelined by the flu.

Hellickson pitched four perfect innings, striking out four while throwing 55 pitches, 26 for strikes. Morton didn't allow a run, either. He gave up two hits, walked one and struck out four.

"I'm really happy with what I'm seeing in terms of swings on my sinker, because it doesn't seem like there are a lot of really good swings," Morton said. "It's early March. Hitters haven't gotten their timing yet. But for Spring Training, I feel like I'm in a good spot."

Hellickson was also pleased. "It felt good to get some work in," he said. "It was good to get some up and downs. My stuff felt really good."

Worth noting

• Ryan Howard made his third straight start. The Phillies want him to show that he can hit left-handed pitching this spring and, in the first inning, he had an RBI double to right against Yankees lefty starter CC Sabathia.